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Belmont students respond to military tensions in Iran

Updated: Oct 3, 2022

For students who are of Iranian descent or have other connections to military tensions in the Middle East, the situation in Iran is more than a distant discussion taking place on social media. It’s close to their homes and loved ones.

From one student who hides her ethnicity for fear of stereotypes, to another worried about her significant other deployed in the Middle East, the tensions in the Middle East affect people everywhere — and Belmont students are no exception.

These are four of their stories.

Shameen Malizei does not want anyone to know she is Iranian.

She goes by Sam rather than the more traditional name Shameen. She bleached her hair a bright shade of blonde, and she’s thankful that her complexion is lighter than that of her Middle-Eastern relatives.

Both of Malizei’s parents escaped from Iran as political refugees, leaving many family members behind.

“When you have family in Iran, you kind of have concerns daily,” said Malizei. “This just kind of added on top of it.”

Malizei’s desire to blend in came long before the death of Gen. Qasem Soleimani and the growing tensions in the Middle East, she said.

“It’s just that ignorance … you know people have like, hot takes on Iran,” said Malizei. “I’m like, ‘I don’t want to hear your hot takes. Just let me live my life.’”

At her Dallas high school, comments about the Iranian hostage situation followed her wherever she went. Though she cherished Iranian culture, it was difficult to escape the stereotype of religious extremism, she said.

So when enrolling at Belmont, she shut out her desire to tattoo the outline of Iran on her arm and took her father’s advice: try and blend in with American life.

“I love Belmont, but I don’t like being super Iranian at Belmont. I feel like people don’t really know much about Iran or Iranians.”

She still loves Iranian culture — the food, the Farsi and her family — but she fears ignorant remarks, from faculty and students alike, regarding the current situation with Iran.

Brenna Pearcy’s biggest fear is the safety of her fiancé, who is currently deployed in Afghanistan.

With wedding plans still to be decided and save-the-dates yet to be sent out, the junior nursing major dreads an extension of deployment for her high school sweetheart, Dylan.

“I’m anxiously awaiting his arrival in the next couple months. It would be a big life change, but it is what it is and he’s gotta do what he signed up to do. At the end of the day, you just have to roll with it,” said Pearcy.

She’s been wearing her ring for almost two years.

Pearcy struggles with not being able to know exactly where her fiancé is, what he is doing and if he will be coming home in mid-March as planned.

His current post is slightly higher-risk than a month ago, she said. But for now, Dylan remains stationed in Afghanistan.

“You just gotta trust that he is going to be OK and that he is coming home eventually.”

Pearcy has hardly been on social media since the strike that killed the prominent Iranian general, because of the recent trend of posting about an imminent ‘World War III’.

War is not a joke to Pearcy.

“You need to know the people who are fighting for our country are strong people and we need to do everything that we can to support them.”

She knows each one of the thousands of newly deployed troops in Iran has family members or fiancées who can’t wait for the call that brings them back home, as she does for Dylan.

Jake Gill, junior theatre performance and directing major, knows those troops are ready for whatever happens — especially his former comrades in the U.S. Marines.

“In the Marine Corps, we are constantly ready for war,” Gill said.

Gill was on the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, and has first-hand experience with the Marine mentality: viewing war as a job.

While stationed, he learned to turn off the rest of the world and focus on his mission.

“I know whether or not I go home that I have something that I have to do. And, I have to keep the people on the left and right of me safe as well. That’s who you are fighting for.”

When Gill receives messages from his former compatriots saying they are off to Iran, his gut reaction is not fear, dread nor worry. It’s to congratulate them on the opportunity.

The Belmont veteran knows his buddies are excited — and he has faith that they’ll get the job done, he said.

“I am not worried about the United States’ safety. Nothing can ever reach us. Nothing could ever touch us. Nobody would ever come here.”

Senior songwriting major Arman Asadsangabi’s parents came here from Iran when the regime change happened in the 1970s.

Asadsangabi, a first generation American, still has family in Iran who he believes may be affected emotionally and socially by troops presence.

He considers claims of an ensuing war exaggerated, but still resents the wave of jokes making light of the situation, he said.

“I think creating a meme out of something as serious and real as war is the saddest thing that can happen to a society,” said Asadsangabi. “If you really think about the people who are affected, it’s not funny.”

Still, Asadsangabi said he takes pride in his Iranian descent and culture.

“I’m grateful for being Iranian. Anyone who was raised with a certain culture should be grateful for it. You can spend your whole life contemplating on its importance.”

But it hasn’t always been easy, he said.

Growing up, he heard stories of his father being spit on, beaten up and even once stabbed for being Iranian. He hesitated to own this part of his life.

“I hated the fact that my hair was darker, or my complexion was a certain way, or that I had more hair on my chest than other people. I was embarrassed. Why didn’t I look like anyone else?”

Now, in the face of escalating tensions, he doesn’t worry about being picked out of the crowd for looking different.

He welcomes it, he said.

“I don’t have any hesitancy being Iranian right now. People who are unaware of the culture will think me being Iranian means something deeper than it does, but that’s for the ignorant to do.”

This article written by Kendall Crawford.

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Carol Lawrence
Carol Lawrence
16 oct 2023

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